Go beyond the expected to discover a different side of the island
The Cayman Islands is not one of those “been there, done that” destinations. With 365 named dive sites and three unique islands to discover, you could return time after time without running out of new underwater adventures. Case in point is Grand Cayman's East End. This side of the island doesn't see nearly as much diver traffic as the western waters and offers some of the most dramatic underwater landscapes.
Diving the Grooves
Make that the spurs and grooves. As is often the case with coral reefs on the windward side of an island, the barrier reef off Grand Cayman's eastern shore has developed as a series of high-relief coral formations separated by deep canyons, and riddled with crevices, undercuts and grottoes. Names like Ironshore Caves, Catacombs, Grouper Grotto and Cinderella's Castle hint at what awaits at the east side's mid-depth sites. Here, in the 40- to 60-foot depth range, divers can fit through deep ravines with walls 20 to 30 feet high, and explore maze-like networks of tunnels, caverns and arches that wind through the ancient limestone underpinning of the reef. These formations hold a resident population of tarpon, and divers may encounter large cubera snappers and groupers lurking in the shadows. During the summer months, the grottoes are often filled with swirling clouds of small silversides.
And yes, there are also walls on Grand Cayman's East End, usually starting in the 60-foot range and plunging to depths of more than a mile. These vertical faces can seem even more dramatic when they are discovered after negotiating the confines of a narrow sand chute to emerge on the edge of the abyss. Walls are covered in rich growths of brightly-hued sponges, soft coral whips and sea fans, all nurtured by the mild currents that are more common on this side of the island. Eagle rays and the Cayman Islands’ trademark turtles are common sightings along the East End walls, and it is also the area where divers stand a reasonable chance of seeing passing reef sharks, and possibly even hammerheads. In all, more than 500 species of fish that have been documented in the area.
Accessing the East
The 50-plus dive sites on Grand Cayman's East End are rarely visited by dive operators located on the island's western coast or North Sound areas. It's just too far to run for anything less than an all-day excursion. For more than 20 years, the go-to shop for East End diving has been Ocean Frontiers. From their docks at Gun Bay, Ocean Frontiers' fleet of fast dive boats cruise to sites ranging from the north-side walls at Old Man Bay to the coral towers of recently-discovered sites in Frank Sound, along with famous must-dos such as Babylon and Jack McKenny's Canyons. The wide scope of available sites allows boat crews to adjust literariness based on both guest preferences and weather conditions.
Ocean Frontiers is known for their service ethos, innovative programs and commitment to marine conservation. They are a Green Certified business that has spearheaded environmental projects such as the installation of new dive site moorings, shark tagging, turtle tracking and the creation of a coral nursery. In addition to daily morning and afternoon two-tank excursions, they offer three-tank safaris, shark awareness dives, dawn stingray encounters, night dives, ultraviolet coral dives, lionfish hunts and their signature X dive, where divers drift the edge of the Cayman Trench. The shop can also arrange wreck diving excursions to the Kittiwake, along with youth programs and a new boat-based snorkeling program, which takes place within the protected shallows inside the barrier reef, and at six additional locations around the island, including Stingray City.
Ocean Frontiers is located on the grounds of Compass Point Dive Resort. This boutique property includes 28 one-, two- and three-bedroom oceanfront, ocean view and poolside condominiums, each with a private patio or balcony. All condo units include a fully-equipped kitchen; pull-down Murphy beds in the living room, en suite washers and dryers, plus nice luxury touches such as Jacuzzi jet bathtubs and HD televisions. Complimentary bikes and kayaks are available for surface intervals, or you might just want to hang out in a hammock or fire up a barbecue grill. If cooking isn't your thing, just head to Eagle Rays Bar & Grill, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with an elevated view of the Caribbean.
In the spring of 2017, Ocean Frontiers opened a satellite dive shop at the Wyndham Reef Resort, which is located three miles north of Compass Point. This is the only full-service, all beachfront resort in the Cayman Islands that offers the option of an all-inclusive plan. All accommodations feature direct ocean views across a white-sand beach, and the one- and two-bedroom villas include a full kitchen, dining area and living room with additional pull-down beds. Guests can tap into a full range of water sports, from PWCs and SUPs to kite surfing, Hobie Cat sailing and snorkeling. On land, there's a spa, fitness center, yoga classes, tennis, and nightly entertainment. When it's time to dive, guests can hop a shuttle for a five-minute ride to the Ocean Frontiers docks at Gun Bay.
Let us take you there
Caradonna has created a number of special three, five and seven-night packages with both Compass Point Dive Resort and the Wyndham Reef Resort that include accommodations, dive trips, a rental car and more. Check our website for current offers, call us at 800-328-2288 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get the inside word on some of the best diving in the Cayman Islands.